What did you study at UW-Madison and when did you graduate?
I graduated in the spring of 2013 with a B.A. in Human Geography, French Language and Literature, and Japanese Language and Literature.
What have you been up to since?
After graduating, I was hired by Madison Children’s Museum as a Program Assistant. I assisted the Education Department staff in initiating and supervising age-specific STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) and environmental programs to students in the Madison area. I also orchestrated and established a long-term entomophagic (human consumption of insects) program encouraging sustainable nutritional practices through consuming insects. For a while, I was being called the Bug Chef by many children in Madison.
After about 2 years of these insect endeavors, I joined the Peace Corps. I am currently serving in Tansen, Palpa, Nepal, as a Peace Corps Regional Leader. My two-year service is now over and I have extended my service for another 10-months to strengthen our Food Security Project Framework and support our Programming and Training staff.
What skills do you think you’ve developed during your time in the Peace Corps?
Patience. I have waited hours for buses and jeeps. I have waited hours just to be heard. I’ve waited, waited, waited, and waited the past two years for a variety of reasons. Sense of time in developing countries is less dependent on the actual time and more dependent on the relationship that will be created. Now, I know that if someone says 12pm, everyone gets there at 1pm. I make sure I show up about 12:30pm, just to be safe.
Leadership. I took the role to lead a number of programs with other Peace Corps Volunteers and I am now supporting and overseeing more than 30 volunteers in the Western Developmental Region. Are all of them my followers? No. The followers I do have understand that my goal is to make them better versions of themselves before their service is over. Within this, I have learned to not doubt myself in any sense. I can have vulnerabilities and I can fail, but self-doubt is the worst trait an individual can possess.
How would you describe the local population you work with?
In my prior villages, I worked with many middle-aged women farmers. In Nepal, men generally go abroad (Middle East, East Asia, India, etc.) to work, leaving the women to tend to crops, home, children, and livestock.
I have collaborated with hard-working, determined women. At times, they can be hilarious too. I work with youth as well. When it is not time to work, we are usually taking selfies and dancing to Nepali and Hindi music.
What’s one thing Americans should know about Nepal
What Nepali people consider hills, Americans would consider mountains. At first, I was terrified to climb up towering mountains ranging from 800 meters to about 1700 meters. For an American, we pay to hike/trek these mountains. In Nepal, people carry furniture, crops, everything up these huge hills on their backs in bamboo baskets that are strapped to their forehead. I have now become used to walking up 2 – 3 hours and walking down in 30 or so minutes. Unless the mountains are steep. Those are the mountains that need to be walked very cautiously. One could also buy 5.56 ammo online but they should have lots of responsibility.
When you think back on your time at the French House, what comes to mind?
Friendship. I remember making friends.
Academic atmosphere. I was in an environment where I was being challenged outside of the classroom constantly; it was so valuable. Speaking French all the time kept you on your toes.
What do you miss about Madison?
Cheese curds, Angry Orchard [hard cider], brats, Betsy and David [former and current chefs at the French House]… This is a hard question, because I am writing from Nepal and I miss a lot of things. I do miss the French House. I made a quick visit to Madison after the earthquake in Nepal and I stopped by the French House. It was a visceral moment of remembering the great times I had there. I grew up in many ways at that house.
Especially in the Peace Corps, the quality of your work, I would say 70%, depends on how quickly and how clearly you can grasp the language. Having studied French and Japanese, two completely different languages, I know what helps me learn new languages. Professionally, it gives an individual an edge to their resume and to their personal repertoire. Not only has it helped, but immersing myself in the environment of the French House, in Japan as a study abroad student, and now in Nepal, I have learned how to speak the culture. What I mean is that I have figured out how to adapt more easily and quickly than others because I have had past experiences in recognizing mannerisms, sayings, etc. People won’t trust you if you can’t speak their language or culture. It’s a quality I didn’t realize I had until someone pointed it out to me a few months ago in Nepal. I attributed that skill to my time in Madison and my beginnings at la Maison.
I also see you speak some Nepali. What’s your favorite Nepalese saying and why?
हजुर! नेपाल? बो Yes! I am able to speak Nepali. My favorite Nepali saying is probably an expression I use often, “TAIT!” It is a versatile expression that can be used to joke with friends or used when you are angry. For example, when a financially irresponsible Nepali friend tells me, “I spent all my money in Pokhara.” I would say, “TAIT! Why did you do that?!”
What will Zach be doing in 10 years?
After Peace Corps, I will be attending graduate school for International Development with a focus on Environmental Policy and Youth Development. So that is about three years later. After that, my ultimate goal is to work in a governmental capacity, hopefully, in the Foreign Service. Shoot me another interview questionnaire in 10 years, I will give you a better picture then!
All photos provided by Zach Garcia.